The Algarve, Portugal - guide to the wildflowers, wildlife and nature reserves

Some of the Wildflowers in the Algarve...

Algarve coast
Typical Algarve coast scene with Onopordum illyricum in the foreground

Although the Algarve faces the Atlantic Ocean, its climate owes much more to the Mediterranean region and shares the mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers associated with its neighbour, Spain, and the other countries that surround the Mediterranean basin. Despite the ongoing development of holiday villas and golf courses in the Algarve, much of the coast has been set aside as nature reserves and so it remains a paradise for wildflowers, birds and many other species of wildlife.

To get the most out of a trip to see the wildflowers, and wild orchids in particular, that flourish in the Algarve it is best to visit during the spring - March and April are ideal months. The weather is generally warm and sunny and you will be greeted by a bewildering profusion of flowers wherever you turn.

Excursions along the coastal strip, sometimes referred to as the littoral zone, are a great way to start. This part of the Algarve contains a habitat known as garrigue - an area close to the sea with dense cushions of plants, pruned by the winds and with well defined bare, stony areas in between making the going quite comfortable. In other parts of the coast there are woodlands consisting mainly of the Umbrella (or Stone) Pine (Pinus pinea) which is one of the few trees that can withstand the harsh, salt-laden and windy conditions found there. Further inland is another distinctive habitat referred to as maquis and this supports taller and more dense shrubs which can be almost impenetrable. Few of these areas are without some clearings allowing access, and it is there that you can discover many botanical wonders. Higher up and further from the coast is the mountainous region, sometimes called the serra, which is forested with native cork oaks (Quercus suber), pines and imported Eucalyptus trees. This part of the Algarve also has open, rocky areas which support numerous plants and which frequently resemble rock gardens, although these are populated with wildflowers and not cultivars.

In between the coast and the mountains there are extensive areas of farmland and, unlike the farmland we are used to in Britain, which is virtually devoid of wildflowers due to the excessive use of herbicides and pesticides, these fields in the Algarve are home to an astonishing variety of wildflowers. In cultivated field margins you will find many flowers. Similarly, farmland that is either abandoned or being allowed to lie fallow is immediately taken over by vast numbers of wildflowers, as the picture below illustrates.

Fallow field covered with wildflowers
An Algarve field that is lying fallow has become home to thousands of wildflowers

The Algarve is home to a fascinating range of rare and beautiful wild orchids including the Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), Sawfly Orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera), Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora) and numerous others many of which are easy to find. You can find pictures and descriptions of many of the orchids on this website in the Southern European section of the wildflower garden.

Mirror orchid
The Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum) is a real speciality of the Algarve

Many of the lovely wildflowers of the area are easily accessible and seem to grow almost anywhere during the spring and early summer, but if you want to see some of the rarer ones, and to enjoy some of the other wonderful wildlife of the region, the national parks and reserves are good places to start. Below are links to detailed information about the most important wildlife areas and natural parks of the Algarve:

Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real do San Antonio
Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana
Parque Natural da Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina - Cape St. Vincent
Fonte de Benemola

A Selection of Wildflowers in the Algarve ( For a more complete list and Portuguese names...)

Scientific Names Common Names
Botanical Families
Allium ampeloprasum Wild Leek Liliaceae
Allium subvillosum Allium subvillosum Liliaceae
Anacamptis coriophora Bug Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis coriophora subsp. fragrans Bug Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis morio Green-winged Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis morio subsp. champagneuxii Champagne Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu Long-spurred Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal Orchid Orchidaceae
Anacamptis pyramidalis var. albiflora Pyramidal Orchid - white variant Orchidaceae
Anagallis monelli Shrubby Pimpernel Primulaceae
Anagallis tenella Bog Pimpernel Primulaceae
Anchusa azurea Large Blue Alkanet Boraginaceae
Andryala integrifolia Andryala Asteraceae
Anthyllis vulneraria Kidney Vetch Fabaceae
Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon Scrophulariaceae
Arbutus unedo Strawberry Tree Ericaceae
Arisarum vulgare Friar's Cowl Araceae
Armeria pungens Sea Rose Plumbaginaceae
Asphodelus aestivus Common Asphodel Liliaceae
Asphodelus fistulosus Hollow-stemmed Asphodel Liliaceae
Astericus maritimus Yellow Sea daisy Asteraceae
Astragalus lusitanicus Astragalus lusitanicus Fabaceae
Bellardia trixago Bellardia Scrophulariaceae
Bellardia trixago Bellardia Scrophulariaceae
Borago officinalis Borage Boraginaceae
Bougainvillea glabra Bougainvillea Nyctaginaceae
Brassica oleracea Wild Cabbage Brassicaceae
Calystegia soldanella Sea Bindweed Convolvulaceae
Carpobrutus edulis Hottentot Fig - mauve Aizoaceae
Carpobrutus edulis Hottentot Fig - yellow Aizoaceae
Centaurea pullata Centaurea pullata Asteraceae
Cephalanthera damasonium White Helleborine Orchidaceae
Cephalanthera longifolia Sword-leaved Helleborine Orchidaceae
Cerinthe major Honeywort - cream Boraginaceae
Cerinthe major Honeywort - purple Boraginaceae
Cichorium intybus Chicory Asteraceae
Cistanche phelypaea Cistanche Orobanchaceae
Cistus albidus Grey-leaved Cistus Cistaceae
Cistus ladanifer Gum Cistus Cistaceae
Cistus salviifolius Sage-leaved Cistus Cistaceae
Colchicum autumnale Autumn Crocus Liliaceae
Consolida ambigua Annual Larkspur Ranunculaceae
Convolvulus arvensis Field Bindweed Convolvulaceae
Convolvulus tricolor Dwarf Convolvulus Convolvulaceae
Cota tinctoria Yellow Chamomile Asteraceae
Cotula coronopifolia Buttonweed Asteraceae
Cytinus hypocistis Cytinus hypocistus Rafflesiaceaea
Datura stramonium Thorn-apple Solanaceae
Digitalis purpurea Foxglove Scrophulariaceae
Dipcadi serotinum Dipcadi Liliaceae
Ecballium elaterium Squirting Cucumber Cucurbitaceae
Echium angustifolium Narrow-leaved Bugloss Boraginaceae
Epipactis helleborine Broad-leaved Helleborine Orchidaceae
Epipactis lusitanica Epipactis lusitanica Orchidaceae
Epipactis tremolsii Epipactis tremolsii Orchidaceae
Erica lusitanica Portuguese Heath Ericaceae
Erica multiflora Erica multiflora Ericaceae
Eryngium maritimum Sea Holly Apiaceae
Fedia cornucopiae Fedia Valerianaceae
Ferraria crispa Black Flag Iridaceae
Foeniculum vulgare Fennel Apiaceae
Fritillaria lusitanica Fritillaria lusitanica Liliaceae
Fumaria capreolata White Ramping-fumitory Fumariaceae
Galium verum Lady's Bedstraw Rubiaceae
Gennaria diphylla Gennaria diphylla Orchidaceae
Gladiolus italicus Field Gladiolus Iridaceae
Glaucium corniculatum Red Horned-poppy Papaveraceae
Glaucium flavum Yellow Horned-poppy Papaveraceae
Glebionys coronaria Crown Daisy Asteraceae
Gynandriris sisyrinchium Barbary Nut Iridaceae
Helichrysum stoechas Helichrysum stoechas Asteraceae
Himantoglossum hircinum Lizard Orchid Orchidaceae
Himantoglossum robertianum Giant Orchid Orchidaceae
Hyoscyamus niger Henbane Solanaceae
Iris albicans Iris albicans Iridaceae
Iris xiphium Spanish Iris Iridaceae
Lathyrus latifolius Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea Fabaceae
Lavandula stoechas French Lavender Lamiaceae
Leucojum autumnale (Acis autumnalis) Autumn Snowflake Amaryllidaceae
Leucojum trichophyllum Three-leaved snowflake Amaryllidaceae
Limodorum abortivum Violet Limodore Orchidaceae
Linaria algarviana Algarve Toadflax Scrophulariaceae
Linaria reflexa Reflexed-fruit Toadflax Scrophulariaceae
Linum narbonense Beautiful Flax Linaceae
Lithodora fruticosa Shrubby Gromwell Boraginaceae
Lobelia dortmanna Water Lobelia Campanulaceae
Lupinus angustifolius Narrow-leaved Lupin Fabaceae
Lupinus luteus Yellow Lupin Fabaceae
Malcolmia flexuosa Malcolmia flexuosa Brassicaceae
Malcolmia littorea Malcolmia littorea Brassicaceae
Malva multiflora Cretan Mallow Malvaceae
Matricaria discoidea Pineaple Mayweed Asteraceae
Medicago marina Sea Medick Fabaceae
Misopates orontium Lesser Snapdragon Scrophulariaceae
Muscari comosum Tassle Hyacinth Liliaceae
Muscari neglectum Grape Hyacinth Liliaceae
Narcissus bulbocodium Yellow Hoop Petticoat Daffodil Liliaceae
Narcissus elegans Narcissus elegans Amaryllidaceae
Narcissus papyraceus Paperwhite Narcissus Amaryllidaceae
Narcissus serotinus Narcissus serotinus Amaryllidaceae
Neotinea maculata Dense-flowered Orchid Orchidaceae
Neotinea tridentata subsp. lactea Milky Orchid Orchidaceae
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's-nest Orchid Orchidaceae
Nepeta tuberosa Catmint (Nepeta tuberosa) Lamiaceae
Nerium oleander Oleander Apocynaceae
Ononis pusilla Ononis pusilla Fabaceae
Onopordum illyricum Illyrian Scotch Thistle Asteraceae
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys bombyliflora Bumblebee Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys dyris Ophrys dyris Orchidaceae
Ophrys fusca Sombre Bee Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys iricolor Rainbow Ophrys Orchidaceae
Ophrys lutea Yellow Ophrys Orchidaceae
Ophrys scolopax Woodcock Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys speculum Mirror Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys speculum subsp. lusitanica Lusitanica Orchid Orchidaceae
Ophrys tenthredinifera Sawfly Orchid Orchidaceae
Opuntia ficus-indica Prickly Pear Cactaceae
Orchis anthropophora Man Orchid Orchidaceae
Orchis italica Naked Man Orchid Orchidaceae
Orchis mascula Early-purple Orchid Orchidaceae
Ornithogalum narbonense Ornithogalum narbonense Liliaceae
Ornithogalum umbellatum Star-of-Bethlehem Liliaceae
Orobanche amethystea Amethyst Broomrape Orobanchaceae
Orobanche crenata Carnation-scented Broomrape Orobanchaceae
Orobanche foetida Orobanche foetida Orobanchaceae
Orobanche minor Common Broomrape Orobanchaceae
Orobanche ramosa Hemp Broomrape Orobanchaceae
Oxalis articulata Pink Oxalis Oxalidaceae
Oxalis Pes-capre Bermuda Buttercup Oxalidaceae
Paeonia clusii Clusius's Peony Paeoniaceae
Paeonia mascula Wild Peony Paeoniaceae
Pancratium maritimum Sea Daffodil Amaryllidaceae
Papaver rhoeas Field Poppy Papaveraceae
Paronychia argentea Paronychia Caryophyllaceae
Phlomis purpurea Purple Phlomis Lamiaceae
Prunus dulcis Almond Rosaceae
Rhododendron ponticum Rhododendron Ericaceae
Romulea bulbocodium Romulea bulbocodium Iridaceae
Rosa canina Dog Rose Rosaceae
Ruta chalepensis Fringed Rue Rutaceae
Salvia verbenaca Wild Clary Lamiaceae
Sarcocornia perennis Perennial Glasswort Chenopodiaceae
Scandix pecten-veneris Shepherd's Needles Apiaceae
Scilla autumnalis Autumn Squill Liliaceae
Scilla bifolia Alpine Squill Liliaceae
Scilla monophyllos One-leaved Scilla Liliaceae
Scilla peruviana Scilla peruviana Liliaceae
Scolymus hispanicus Spanish Oyster Plant Asteraceae
Serapias cordigera Heart-flowered Serapias Orchidaceae
Serapias lingua Tongue Orchid Orchidaceae
Serapias parviflora Small-flowered Serapias Orchidaceae
Serapias vomeracea Long-lipped Tongue Orchid Orchidaceae
Silene colorata Pink Catchfly Caryophyllaceae
Silene gallica Small-flowered Catchfly Caryophyllaceae
Solanum dulcamara Bittersweet Solanaceae
Solanum linnaeanum Apple of Sodom Solanaceae
Spiranthes spiralis Autumn Lady's Tresses Orchidaceae
Thalictrum aquilegifolium Great Meadow Rue Ranunculaceae
Thymus polytrichus Wild Thyme Lamiaceae
Tolpis barbata European Umbrella Milkwort Asteraceae
Tragopogon hybridus Pasture Goatsbeard Asteraceae
Tragopogon porrifolius Salsify Asteraceae
Tripleurospermum inodorum Scentless Mayweed Asteraceae
Tripleurospermum maritimum Sea Mayweed Asteraceae
Tripodion tetraphyllum Bladder Vetch Fabaceae
Tuberaria guttata Spotted Rockrose Cistaceae
Vicia benghalensis Red Tufted Vetch Fabaceae
Vicia cracca Tufted Vetch Fabaceae
Vinca minor Lesser Periwinkle Apocynaceae

More about the Algarve and its wildlife...

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